Late Summer Plum Cake

June  3, 2022
5 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

I developed this recipe for my book, *Farmers' Market Desserts*. But because I tend to write long recipes, including every detail the reader might need, space ran short and this one fell victim to the editorial axe. A recent windfall of plums from a friend’s tree reminded me it was time to make this cake.

I originally developed the recipe using the small, dense-fleshed prune plums that come toward the end of summer. This time, my fruit bowl was filled with juicy Flavor Rosa and Yummy Rosa varieties, some still firm, others soft. With these larger plums, I needed only five or six of them, and because they were juicier, the cake took a bit longer to bake (and turned out seductively moist).

I have been on a lemon verbena kick ever since putting the plant in my herb garden. If you don’t have any, substitute a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon balm or lemon thyme, or ½ teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest. —JSCooks —JSCooks

Test Kitchen Notes

Fresh plums, which are at their peak in summertime, don't need much to shine—just a pillowy batter to encase them, to catch their juices, and a little sweetness to joust with their tartness. The batter for JSCooks's cake is scented with sour cream, vanilla extract, and lemon (either fresh verbena leaves if you can find them, or grated lemon zest, which is much more accessible). She uses lemon verbena leaves; we went for the substitute, lemon zest, and the cake did not suffer for it, which means yours won’t either. Sour cream adds a welcome richness, and its tang offsets some of the sweetness from the fruit and added sugar (both granulated and brown sugar are used here).

Admittedly, this cake takes a while to bake—a full 50 minutes, plus 20 minutes of resting time. It’s not the recipe to pick when you’re already running late for the family picnic and forgot you offered to bring dessert. But for every other moment, when you’re on your game, it’s the epitome of a sweet summer snack.

As for serving, do go the extra mile and make fresh whipped cream or buy some crème fraîche (it just depends whether you’re looking for more or less sweetness). Our favorite whipped cream recipe comes from Nancy Silverton and is really the best of both worlds—it calls for 1 cup of whipping cream and 4 tablespoons of crème fraîche; whip the cream in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until it begins to thicken, then gently fold in the crème fraîche by hand, exercising caution so as to not deflate the freshly formed peaks. For a cake like this, we prefer the whipped cream to have soft peaks, rather than stiff, tight peaks. The lucid, creamy texture is easy on the eyes and encases each forkful of cake. Serve it with ice cream, too, because why not? It’s the dog days of summer, and we need every bit of cool that we can get.
—The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Late Summer Plum Cake
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 medium-size fresh lemon verbena leaves or ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 12 small to medium, firm-ripe prune plums, halved lengthwise and pitted
  • Lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving (optional)
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F, with a rack in the lower third. Butter a 9x2-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside. Stack the lemon verbena leaves (if using), roll up tightly lengthwise, and cut them crosswise into fine ribbons. You will want 2 to 3 packed teaspoons.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a handheld mixer), beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light, about 5 minutes. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla, and reserved lemon verbena (or lemon zest) until well combined. On low speed, add the flour mixture just until combined. (The batter will be thick.)
  4. Spread half of the batter evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and top with 12 of the plum halves, cut side down. Dollop and spread the remaining batter over the plums. Arrange the remaining 12 plum halves, cut side up, over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar over the plums.
  5. Bake until the cake is golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (assuming you haven’t hit a plum), 50 to 55 minutes, rotating the pan front to back a little past halfway through baking. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
  6. Run a thin knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert a flat plate over the pan. Using oven mitts if needed, grasp the plate and pan tightly together on both sides and invert the plate and pan to release the cake onto the plate. Lift off the pan and peel off the parchment. Invert the cake again onto a serving plate.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream, if desired.
Contest Entries

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sabine Gagnon
    Sabine Gagnon
  • Atelier Allison
    Atelier Allison
  • Jo B
    Jo B
  • JSCooks
  • drbabs

131 Reviews

saltspoon February 14, 2024
The flavor to effort value on this recipe feels like you’re cheating. It’s so good, especially if you use the lemon verbena (but it’s also amazing with the substitute)
Fay W. September 12, 2021
This is a rift on Marion Burrows famous cake published in the NYTimes. Surprised this author is taking credit. I have made it for most of my adult life at this time of year. I am 74!
JSCooks September 12, 2021
Fay W: If you read through the comments you will see that many people familiar with both recipes and who have even made them side by side comment that the results are quite different. Recipes don't come out of thin air, they are developed from the knowledge one has from making other people's recipes combined with their own skills and preferences that make the recipe their own. Ms. Burros likely did the same thing when she developed her recipe. In any case, I will repeat here my response to an earlier poster who evoked the wonderful Marion Burros cake:
<< The cake was inspired by a recipe I found on the website of Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, Mass, while researching my book, Farmers' Market Desserts. I tracked that recipe back to Marian Burros' Plum Torte and its illustrious history of annual reprints in the NY Times. By the time I'd increased the flour, decreased the sugar, added the lemon verbena and eliminated the cinnamon, added sour cream and adjusted the baking soda, and layered the plums into the cake, I decided I'd gone so far afield that Ms. Burros' mightn't have wished her name associated with my cake. But indeed, that torte helped pave the way to this cake! >>
megtheescallion September 6, 2021
YUM! Made this cake today and it was a huge hit! I added almond extract to the batter and some sliced almonds on top of the first layer of plums. I would highly recommend trying it this way! I served it warm with some sweetened Greek yogurt, the perfect dessert!
JSCooks September 6, 2021
So happy you enjoyed it!
cpc August 22, 2021
I was a little nervous because I had a bunch of very ripe plums and wasn’t sure how the cake would turn out. I baked it an extra 20 minutes and it turn out perfectly. Easy, tasty and not too sweet. I will definitely make it again.
JSCooks August 22, 2021
So glad you gave it a try and enjoyed it! I just pulled out the recipe the other day when I found French prune plums at the farmers' market.
Sharon July 12, 2021
This cake is delicious. I used Santa Rosa plums and lemon verbena. Next time, I’ll add a little more lemon verbena. The cake was moist and not too sweet…perfect. I’m thinking peaches would be very good in this cake…probably any stone fruit would be good. Wondering if blueberries or cherries would work?
JSCooks July 13, 2021
So glad your enjoyed the cake! I love it with prune plums, which are meatier than the Santa Rosas, but I don't see why it wouldn't work with any stone fruit.
Sabine G. September 17, 2018
THIS.CAKE. So good. So simple. My husband said it was one of the best things I have ever baked...and I bake a lot!
JSCooks September 4, 2022
Hey Sabine - my apologies as I am just seeing your note now -- yes, four years late. It makes me very happy to know how much you and your husband enjoyed the cake. I hope you have made it many times since - NOW is exactly the right time for it!
Sabine G. September 4, 2022
funny enough, i just made 6!! and gifted them! My favorite way to make sure our plums get used and all of our friends look forward to this cake every year!
JSCooks September 4, 2022
Fantastic! You are an inspiration!
Emily S. August 3, 2017
This was FANTASTIC! Thank you! I made with the lemon zest and added half a teaspoon of almond extract in addition to the vanilla (I highly recommend this addition). Superb.
JSCooks August 3, 2017
I'm so glad you enjoyed it! If you ever have the chance to make it with lemon verbena I know you will be delighted. It's easy to grow and gives the cake (and many other things) a wonderful flavor. Enjoy!
Tad September 10, 2015
This cake, which I am enjoying as I write this, is delicious. Best cake I ever produced out of a recipe. Thank you for sharing. I too used a larger spring form (10.5") and followed the recipe exactly. I guess my pie is a little thinner due to the larger form, but everything came out perfect.
Bethany O. August 23, 2015
OMG. I'm eating this still a little warm out of the oven right now and it is phenomenal. I used pluots, lemon zest and added a pinch of cardamom and cinnamon. It's not too sweet and the cake came out just perfect. Thanks for the fabulous recipe.
JSCooks August 23, 2015
Thanks for letting me know. I'm delighted! And a happy coincidence as I just picked up prune plums at the farmers' market today with the intention of making this in the next day or two. Those pinches of spice sound lovely. Do try it with lemon verbena if you get the chance. Thanks again and enjoy!
whmcdevitt November 23, 2014
yes, it should work just fine. let them defrost and drain to remove the excess liquid.
pat November 23, 2014
Our plum trees had so much fruit this year that I pitted and froze some. Do you think frozen would work in this? I wanted to do it for Thanksgiving so would hate to do it w/o a test cake first but there just isn't time.
JSCooks November 23, 2014
Hi Pat. I'd be a bit hesitant about doing that for a holiday. When you freeze fruit it breaks down to some degree. While you could thaw and drain them, I'm afraid they would be too soft and mushy in the cake. Personally, I'd save that experiment for a casual evening when you won't feel too badly if it doesn't work out and go with something tried and true for Thanksgiving. But then, if you're not concerned and there are other desserts, you might feel differently. Happy holiday!
Luiz January 19, 2014
Atelier A. September 17, 2013
I made this yesterday "as written" except I did use a 10 inch springform. It worked perfectly. It is sheer Plum Cake Perfection! Thank you for sharing this fab recipe.
JSCooks September 17, 2013
Oh, thank you so much for your comment Atelier Allison! It makes me happy every time I hear someone has used the recipe and enjoyed the cake. Also makes me want to run to the kitchen and make one myself!
Jo B. July 29, 2013
Really scrumptious! I made modifications--10-in. springform, so I multiplied ingredients by 1.2-ish (which doesn't work well when it comes to eggs), used apricots instead of plums, didn't have sour cream so used full-fat yoghurt (not the same!) and cut back on the brown sugar on top--just used a teaspoon, as we like things on the tart side. It took fully 1 hour and 40 minutes to bake, as that larger pan and, I think, too much liquid caused by using three eggs instead of 2.5 eggs, but it was really, really delicious! What is it about apricots and plums that makes them so transformed when cooked? I think I'll turn the apricots skin side up next time, and there will be a next time--with apricots and, in late summer, with plums. Brava/o! Here's a pic:
JSCooks July 29, 2013
Hi Jo B -- that sounds great with apricots. I'm afraid I'll have to wait for next year to try that. Besides the factors you mentioned the yogurt likely had considerably more moisture than sour cream which would contribute to the longer baking time. I would use a well-drained Greek yogurt if you want to make that substitution. I think it would be fine to bake the recipe as I shared it in a 10-inch springform. Just watch carefully and reduce the baking time slightly. Thanks again for trying it and reporting back!
whmcdevitt June 28, 2013
i think peaches would work just fine if they aren't too ripe. cooking softens them so
hopefully they're firm!.......good luck!
nike June 28, 2013
oh thank you for the quick response, because i was going to make it now ha!!! let you know how it turned out ..
JSCooks June 28, 2013
I don't think they need to be too firm -- look for ripe-firm peaches that aren't super juicy.
nike July 22, 2013
sorry for the late response, it worked out great with the peaches!
JSCooks July 23, 2013
delighted to hear that -- thanks for reporting back!
nike June 28, 2013
hi i couldnt find the prune plums , can i substitute with peaches or would that ruin the spirit of this lovely cake ? tx
JSCooks June 28, 2013
I don't think it would ruin it at all! Let us know how it works out for you if you try it, keeping in mind that peaches can be super juicy.
starface80 June 18, 2013
i made this last night - delicious and just moist enough! i cut back on the sugar to about 1/2 C as well and found it was plenty sweet - as did the other 4 diners. i could see using this batter with all kinds of other delicious summer fruit.
JSCooks June 28, 2013
I agree it's amenable to many different types of fruit. I am all in favor of cutting down the sugar for those who prefer that -- I aim for making recipes with the least amount of sweetener possible. It helps the flavors to shine through!
niharika June 10, 2013
has anyone made this eggless..? if yes, can you pls help with the substitutions? I would love to try this, but i dont eat eggs!
drbabs June 10, 2013
No, but I did some research for you. According to Shirley Corriher in Bakewise, eggs perform several functions in a cake-- the whites are leavening and drying agents, and the yolks emulsify and provide a creamy texture. In addition, they supply protein to set and hold the cake. Without them, you have to optimize the flour in the cake's ability to form gluten and set. She recommends that you use a high protein flour (she suggests King Arthur's unbleached flour, or you could use bread flour), and you have to stir the water in before the fat so that gluten can form. She has an eggless recipe that includes 1 teaspoon of vinegar so that the batter stays acidic. Without the drying effect of the egg whites, the cake will be very moist.

I also found you this article on substitutions, so you can choose the one that works best for you:

Good luck! This is a really delicious cake-- I hope you're able to modify it.
JSCooks June 10, 2013
niharika: thanks for your comment, and drbabs: thanks for piping in with this great information! I have an eggless cupcake recipe in my Farmers' Market Desserts cookbook that has that bit of vinegar. It's amazing how that works! I know a lot of people use Ener-G Egg Replacer successfully, or the mixture of ground flax seed and water mentioned in the article drbabs referenced. niharika -- let us know if you try one of these and how it works out. I am tickled pink that this cake is still getting so much attention. Plums are just coming out and will be around through late summer to early fall, so there's plenty of time to experiment!
whmcdevitt October 16, 2012
I've never had a chance to freeze it. it gets eaten so fast. i think it would do ok as long as you wrap it well and don't freeze it for to long. the fruit would get funky I believe!
whmcdevitt October 16, 2012
I've never had a chance to freeze it. it gets eaten so fast. i think it would do ok as long as you wrap it well and don't freeze it for to long. the fruit would get funky I believe!
Brain H. October 17, 2012
Thank you whmcdevitt. I'll give it a try!